The logic of the offseason can be a bit roundabout.
This past season, the Caps' biggest problem was offense. They scored 2.67 goals per game, which put them at a poor #19 in the league, a far cry from their #1 ranking the previous year. (They were a much better 2.33 in goals against per game, which put them at #4 in the league.) Now, in the offseason, it appears to many of us that the best way for the Caps to improve their offense is to sign a center who will put defense first and who can take the load off of Nick Backstrom, allowing Backstrom to once again focus on putting the puck in the net. But that's the shape of things, and finding that 3rd line center presents itself as the Caps' main priority.
There's been talk of acquiring Marty Reasoner in these parts, of signing Marcel Goc, and of some other names (even including Brooks Laich), but a name I haven't seen suggested much is Michael Handzus. I think Handzus might be the best option of the bunch.Here's his SBNation scouting report:
Is a load to line up against, at 6-4, 218 pounds. Plays solid defense and is also a capable playmaker. Can chip in with timely goals.
Lacks speed. Isn't very aggressive for a player with such an imposing frame. Has not reached his full potential on offense.
Veteran two-way center.
Which really doesn't do the man justice. Let's start with the fundamentals. Handzus led all Kings forwards in ice time during the playoffs, with 20:21 per game, including 3:35 per game on the power play (3rd among Kings forwards) and 3:33 per game on the penalty kill, tops among all Kings players. That's right, all Kings players, including defensemen. The man was their rock -- when the Kings' best forwards went down with injuries, the Kings turned to Handzus.
Handzus is a good defensive player. He finished 2nd in the Selke voting after the 1999-2000 season, and was on the ice for about 9 fewer goals than one would have expected from an average player who played his minutes. His faceoff percentage was a respectable 51.7, which ought to be good enough to permit the Caps to give Handzus their toughest zone starts and let the more skilled players shine in the offensive zone. That's a role Handzus should be comfortable with -- his 43.5 OZone% at 5-on-5 was the toughest among Kings regulars.
Many teams may shy away from Handzus because he's going to turn 35 just before the start of next year's playoffs. That's justified to some degree. Handzus's scoring has gone down from 42 points in both 08-09 and 09-10 to just 30 last year. He certainly shouldn't be anything near the $4 Million he made last year. On the other hand, Handzus has demonstrated great durability, playing 81 or 82 games each of the past four years. Given the defensive role he'd likely be asked to play with the Caps, there's no reason to believe Handzus can't manage at least one more year of solid play.
Handzus seems to be a true free agent -- he probably won't be re-signed by LA. The Kings have Anze Kopitar, Brayden Schenn, Andrei Loktionov, and Jarrett Stoll ready to play top-2 line minutes, and Stoll, Brad Richardson, and Trevor Lewis ready to play on the bottom-2 lines. There's no space on the roster for Handzus. Here's what Quisp over at Jewels for the Crown says about the prospects of losing Handzus this year:
- People seem to think he's going to re-sign at a steep discount. If he does, that puts Stoll pretty solidly in the C2 position, with Handzus in C3, which likely means no Schenn or Loktionov.
- UNLESS the plan would be to give Zeus 4th line minutes. I guess I can kinda see that. But would a line centered by Handzus ever really be a 4th line? Wouldn't Zeus just creep back in to those critical defensive situations? He could mentor Lewis (or Schenn) in the finer points of being a wily shut-down guy. That would leave Schenn, Lewis and Richardson duking it out for the remaining center spot, which would be either C3 or C4.
- Handzus, you might recall, was my MVP through most of last season, but I find it hard to get excited about the prospect of re-signing him. Wouldn't he want more than a one year deal? And is there any advantage to that, for the Kings? I freely admit I get restless in the off-season and get too bored too quickly with conservative but (probably) prudent solutions. But signing Handzus for another year or two is very conservative, even by the usual Lombardi/Murray yardsticks.
- Lombardi could have re-signed Sean O'Donnell, but chose to upgrade to Willie Mitchell. I have to think he'll give a lot of thought to making room for the younger centers, especially this next guy, who isn't even all that young anymore.
Some telling stuff there. MVP through most of the season? Zeus would just creep back into the critical defensive situations? Sounds like just the kind of guy the Caps are looking for. I can understand why the Kings would want to give the young players the chance to play, but it means that Handzus isn't exactly a cast-off. He's a good, solid player who would fit well on most teams. And I think the Caps are a particularly good fit.
Handzus seems to me to be this year's Mike Knuble -- the perfect fit for a major hole in the Caps' roster. I'd give him up to $3 Million, and if that means he replaces Brooks Laich, then I'm willing to live with that. Of course, if the Caps can manage to sign both players, Laich-Handzus-Sjogren could be one hell of a stopper line. I'd love to see that, and I'd love to see Handzus in a Caps' uniform.